Royal British Legion president quits over defence lobbying claims

Charity says Lieutenant-General Sir John Kiszely did not breach a ban on using events 'for commercial or political gain' and will name his replacement soon

 Sir John Kiszely
Sir John Kiszely

The president of the Royal British Legion has resigned after making what he called "exaggerated and foolish claims" about how he could use his position to lobby ministers on behalf of private defence firms.

Lieutenant-General Sir John Kiszely was among several top-ranking retired military figures who were caught in a sting by The Sunday Times, published yesterday.

The newspaper secretly filmed the men boasting about how they could use their contacts to lobby on behalf of private companies.

According to the newspaper Kiszely, who was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the Battle of Mount Tumbledown in the Falklands War, said he could use his role as RBL president to lobby the Prime Minister and other senior government figures at Remembrance Day events.

He told undercover reporters posing as representatives from a South Korean arms company offering to hire him to help sell a drone to the Ministry of Defence that the Festival of Remembrance was an "extremely sought-after event, and we do invite people, and commercial people can get in on that and… it is a tremendous networking opportunity".

He told the reporters: "I have to host the Prime Minister, so I sit next to David Cameron – and I’m not expecting this to be a big opportunity, but they all say ‘so what are you doing?’, and I’ll say ‘Oh not much, I’m just doing…’ and then you mention whatever you want to mention."

He also told them he used the position to secure meetings with Andrew Robathan, the armed forces minister, on the pretext of talking about the charity’s business when he actually wanted to lobby for private defence firms.

In a statement released by the RBL today, Kiszely said it would be inappropriate for him to remain as its president.

"I have made it clear that I have always kept my role of national president completely separate from any business interests, and never used any access gained as president to raise the subject of, or discuss, any business interests whatsoever, let alone to make representations on behalf of clients," he said.

"And I have made it equally clear that I have never breached any government rules related to lobbying. But I made exaggerated and foolish claims to the contrary, incompatible with my position in the legion."

Kiszely was due to step down from the role in December but said he was bringing his departure forward in the best interests of the charity.

Chris Simpkins, director general of RBL, said he was satisfied there had been no breach of the charity’s code of conduct and that Kiszely’s remarks were out of character.

"The legion’s work, including remembrance events, must be kept free of any suggestion that they could be used for commercial or political gain," he said.

"Sir John's remarks suggested otherwise. I have discussed the matter with Sir John and consulted with the governance committee of the board of trustees and am satisfied that no breach of the legion’s code of conduct has actually occurred. 

"The president does not have any personal guests in his box at the festival in which he hosts senior politicians and military personnel as guests of the Royal British Legion."

He said Kiszely’s successor had been identified several weeks ago and would be announced soon.

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